‘The adults kids turn to when all else fails’ make time for rest and renewal
by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian youth worker Michelle Phillips felt the weight of the world on her shoulders — and that was before the recent shooting at a Florida high school, where 17 people were killed.
“Recently some students skipped high school,” she says, her voice trailing off.
Speeding, they were in a tragic car accident. One of the passengers died, the other is in critical condition. The driver walked away without any physical injuries. None of the students were involved at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church, where Phillips serves as the director of youth and family ministry. But the students in Overland Park, Kansas, wanted answers.
“They came to her asking, ‘Why did this happen? Why wasn’t the driver hurt?’”
For Phillips, the why questions that come after a tragedy are “the hardest part” of a youth worker’s job because often they’ll never be able to answer them.
“It takes a lot out of you,” she says. “It hurts. Sometimes your foundation is shaken. “
When she feels this way, Phillips starts thinking of the students who come to youth group at Rolling Hills, because it is the only place they are accepted and feel love. In those moments she’ll close her office door. The quiet reminds her that God is present even when there are no answers to why.
It gives Phillips “enough hope and courage and faith for tomorrow” — which is what she shares with her students. “God is with us, even in the ugly.”
“Anything that rocks our society, whether it’s a school shooting or natural disaster, shatters our kids’ worlds,” she says. “We live in such fragile times.”
Youth workers like Phillips are on the front lines constantly tending to the spiritual lives of youth. Walking with them through tragedy. Taking late-night phone calls and texts. Spending weekends leading retreats.
“They’re notorious for giving generously of themselves,” says Michael Harper, director of Presbyterian Youth Worker Association (PYWA). “But they do this often at the expense of taking care of themselves.”
PYWA, in partnership with Presbyterian Mission’s Ministries with Youth, wanted to do something about that. Together, they are hosting the first-ever Youth Worker Sabbath Day on Thursday, April 5. Currently, Sabbath group hosts are forming local groups across the country where youth workers can engage in Sabbath practices together.
Each group will begin the morning with a video presentation and program designed specifically for the event by renowned speaker, author and spiritual director Mark Yaconelli about the significance of holy rest and restful work. Then, resources offering suggested activities of prayer, art, and conversation will help each group sculpt the rest of their day.
Phillips, a Sabbath group host, says PYWA is “empowering youth workers by giving them permission to take that time that will draw us closer to God.” Her group is meeting at a local church. After the morning session, they’ll go to a park to be by themselves. Some will read and others will pray. Phillips plans to paint. They’ll meet back for dinner to discuss how they can support each other.
“This will give us the strength to be available,” she says. “We’re the adults that kids turn to when all else fails.”
Sabbath group hosts are still needed. If possible, these groups are encouraged to meet at Presbyterian camps and conference centers.
“It’s a great way for our youth workers to engage with these centers as a participant and learner, rather than a chaperone,” says Gina Yeager-Buckley, ministries with youth director. “It’s a great way for our camps to do something for the adults who consistently bring groups of kids to camps.”
Click here to find a Sabbath group host near you, including the camps and conference centers that are currently involved.
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